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July 19, 2016

The Growing Threat Of Domestic Lone Wolf Terrorist Attacks

  Investor's Business Daily

By Merrill Matthews, Ph.D., and Michael Nathanson

CIA Director John Brennan recently said, referring to the three terrorists involved in the Istanbul airport attack, "I'd be surprised if Daesh (ISIS) is not trying to carry out that kind of attack in the United States."

He's probably right. ISIS-inspired terrorists are increasingly targeting civilians. Here's why.

ISIS is struggling in Iraq and so must make progress elsewhere. Nothing succeeds like success. What made ISIS so attractive to radicalized Muslims, both in the Middle East and abroad, was its seemingly unstoppable advance. That perception has been tarnished lately as ISIS has lost ground in some key areas, most recently in Fallujah.

Such setbacks almost guarantee that ISIS will turn its sights to other countries in an effort to change the narrative from defeat to progress. No one knows better than ISIS that if it loses its momentum, another Islamic terrorist group will vie for leadership -- because that's what ISIS did, displacing its predecessor al-Qaida in commanding the attention of the world and most media outlets.

Governments are looking out for those trying to get to the Middle East. In the fall of last year, reports suggested that the U.S. government was watching between 250 and 300 ISIS sympathizers located here. Other countries are also monitoring potential recruits.

That surveillance makes it difficult for sympathizers to slip out of the country undetected to help ISIS fight abroad. So, they believe their next-best option is to engage in domestic terrorism.

A lone wolf terrorist attack can be quick, cheap and easy. Fighting wars is very expensive; carrying out a lone wolf terrorist attack is quick, cheap and easy -- especially if the terrorist doesn't plan to survive.

As Brennan went on to explain: "It's not that difficult to actually construct and fabricate a suicide vest."

ISIS has seen its profits decline with the drop in oil prices -- one of the ways it finances its wars and terrorism.
Homegrown terrorism, by contrast, may not cost ISIS anything -- think of Omar Mateen in Orlando and Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino -- and yet the attacks can be very deadly.

The "lone wolf" may not be that alone. It is important to understand that so-called domestic "lone wolf" terrorist endeavors are typically not devised and conducted in a vacuum, as former U.S. Ambassador John Bolton cautioned in a recent interview. They are usually drawn to the fight by sophisticated, slick social media propaganda, designed to create sympathizers and ultimately bad actors. ISIS excels in this arena.

A domestic terror attack has greater shock value. Being an ocean away from the fighting in the Middle East can leave Americans complacent and uninterested -- something ISIS cannot tolerate if it wants to dominate the news. But a domestic terror attack makes Americans nervous and fearful, which is exactly what ISIS wants.

A domestic terror attack is more politically divisive. ISIS doesn't want the U.S. uniting to destroy it; ISIS wants the U.S. dividing to destroy itself.

After the massive destruction of 9/11, Americans set aside partisan differences to fight the terrorists. But more limited terrorist attacks undertaken by one or a few individuals drive us apart -- just witness the fallout from the Orlando attack, with Democrats waging a sit-in in the House of Representatives.

We need to remember that although the jihadist threat is very real, the vast majority of Muslims are appalled by such attacks. A Pew Research Center survey of 11 countries with large Muslim populations points out that only about 10% or fewer have a favorable view of ISIS. But that small percentage can have an outsized impact.

Sebastian Gorka, a professor of military theory at Marine Corps University, recently pointed out in the New York Post: "Omar Mateen is the 103rd ISIS supporter American authorities have arrested or killed in the two years since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the new Islamic State. … Of all those arrested, only half wanted to leave America and fight in Iraq or Syria. Twenty percent are mid-level operatives, talent-spotters and recruiters. But a full third had already decided that the best way to serve the new caliph, the new emperor of Islam, is to kill infidel Americans here in the United States."

And that's why we are likely to see more lone wolf terrorist attacks in the U.S. And we're likely to see them soon.

Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas.  

Nathanson is the author of the novel "Cries of the Eagle" at


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